When you’re a food and beverage manufacturer, there’s no business more serious than quality control. Consumer safety and quality control go hand-in-hand for the food industry in a way that most other industries don’t have to deal with.
You’re working with the food that people put on their tables and feed to their families. That means that the right way is the one and only way to do it.
Whether you’re a new business developing your quality control procedures or it’s time for a revamp, it’s crucial to keep up with the latest developments in food and beverage quality control.
By following these seven principles, you can help ensure that your practices are up-to-date, safe, sanitary and profitable.
1. Stick to the Plan
An FDA-licensed food manufacturer must have detailed and rigorous quality control procedures. Your starting point is your Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) plan, a step-by-step procedure for protecting the safety of your food products at every level.
Adhering to this plan is how you’ll stay in compliance with safety standards and ensure that your quality controls are robust. Your HARPC plan will outline both the preventive measures you’ll need to put in place as well as the corrective measures to take if preventive measures fail.
Moreover, your HARPC plan will get a thorough examination from the FDA when you apply for your license and during inspections. So, make sure that your employees understand the plan thoroughly and know the potential consequences of deviating from it.
2. Traceability Is Everything
From one end to another, your supply chain must be traceable and verifiable. In a worst-case scenario, traceability can save lives by enabling a quicker response—but, of course, you want to catch the problems long before that. Transparency at every level of the supply chain is the new standard in food and beverage manufacturing, so you’d better be prepared to implement it.
Traceability becomes particularly important when you consider the new age of global supply chains. A centralized platform such as a cloud-based manufacturing software suite will help keep all of your data in one place where it’s accessible by all appropriate parties. It will also help you keep track of quality control KPIs and trace failed batches back to their source.
3. Get Tough on PPE Violations
Violations of your personal protective equipment (PPE) policy aren’t a fashion choice or a matter of convenience. They can be responsible for FDA and OSHA violations, injuries, quality control failures and, in a worst-case scenario, product recalls.
The first step to improving compliance with PPE rules is to make sure that they’re unambiguous and clearly posted. Make sure you’re communicating clearly with your employees about the necessity of proper PPE in maintaining quality standards.
If you’re having trouble achieving compliance, you might need to take a firmer hand with unannounced inspections and consequences for those caught violating PPE rules—though you should also make sure to invest in PPE that’s comfortable to wear and doesn’t hinder workers from doing their jobs.
4. Automate Your Processes
As a rule of thumb, the more you can eliminate human input from your process, the better. An automated manufacturing process has numerous benefitsfor food and beverage quality control, including transparency, worker safety, boosted efficiency and cost reductions.
Manufacturing IoT has proven itself particularly useful to today’s food and beverage manufacturer. These automated devices are able to catch quality control problems closer to the source, and many use an “always on” model that reduces reliance on inspections.
As you evaluate the costs and benefits of adding technological improvements to your manufacturing process, make sure you’re not overlooking the quality control benefits of automation.
5. Don’t Overlook Food Defense
Food defense is a somewhat different animal from food safety. Where food safety focuses on the accidental introduction of contaminants, food defense guards against intentional adulteration. It’s a bigger threat than you might expect, and the costs of failure can be ruinous for a manufacturer.
The FDA offers free Food Defense Plan Builder software to manufacturers, so take advantage of the opportunity and don’t hesitate to get expert advice if you need it. Perhaps most importantly, make sure you’ve got total buy-in from your manufacturing floor employees. They’re the front line of defense against adulteration.
6. Get Aggressive About Failure Analysis
Failure analysis is a standard procedure of any manufacturing business, but an aggressive effort to discover the root cause of failures is particularly critical in food and beverage manufacturing. Remember that you’re looking for the root cause, not trying to apply a Band-Aid—and that will require keeping some key principles in mind:
- Make sure to drill down under the surface-level symptoms.
- Remember that there may be more than one root cause, so ask yourself if what you’ve found explains the problem completely.
- Resist the temptation to blame individual employees and ask instead how the system itself can be improved.
Robust scientific research is particularly important when analyzing failures in food manufacturing because it allows you to better understand the nature of your threats. Make sure you’re using microscopes designed for food and beverage analysis, and that you’re employing researchers with the scientific training to effectively examine contaminants under a microscope.
7. Emphasize the Cost of Quality
Finally, remember to communicate the idea of Cost of Quality across your organization. COQ is made up of several key components:
- Cost of preventive measures (such as PPE and preventive equipment maintenance).
- Cost of appraisal (such as quality control and supplier vetting).
- Cost of internal failure (such as waste, reworks and failure analysis).
- Cost of external failure (such as recalls, refunds, crisis management and even lawsuits).
The key takeaway is that cost at each level often increases exponentially, making early intervention critical for keeping costs down. Communicating this commitment to fighting problems at their source will help establish a climate of safety and quality in which employees come forward early about issues, pay attention to the details and work together to problem-solve.
Quality control in food and beverage manufacturing is the definition of high stakes and increasing production demands and global supply chains have raised those stakes even further.
Fortunately, with the advanced technology and resources available to the food industry today, it’s possible to keep up—so long as you set your culture on a course of total commitment to quality.